Letters to the Editor

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Heated Confrontation with Natives Forces SWN Executives to Shut Down Open House Ahead of Schedule

By Cheryl Norrad

First Nations members confronted SWN General Manager Tom Alexander at a company open house yesterday in Durham Bridge, telling him SWN wasn't wanted in the building or the province and that it should leave. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

In what began yesterday as a pleasant information session at the Nashwaak Valley School in Durham Bridge by shale gas company SWN, soon turned ugly as First Nations members stormed the building to shut it down, sending executives packing.

"How many times do we have to tell you no means no!" bellowed a female Native, who preferred to remain anonymous, as she walked toward SWN General Manager Tom Alexander standing at a whiteboard presenting facts and figures to locals in the school's gymnasium.

Chatter in the room came to an abrupt halt as everyone there for the open house turned to see Alexander being surrounded by several Natives dressed in camouflage uniforms and feathers.

The female Native got in Alexander's face, pointing her finger at him, demanding SWN stop the presentation, leave the building and the province.

"We don't want you here! You need to leave, NOW!" she said.

However, Alexander stood his ground at first and refused to be moved.

"We will leave when we are ready," said Alexander.

At that, the Natives ratcheted up the pressure with burly Tobique protection officer Stephen Perley stepping in to make it clear to Alexander it was time to go.

Tobique First Nation member Stephen Perley tells SWN General Manager Tom Alexander to leave open house in Durham Bridge yesterday. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

"You're going to leave. LEAVE!" Perley said in a deep booming voice that echoed throughout the gym, while looking at Alexander with a death stare.

PR executive Louis Legere moved in to get Alexander out of the fray before anything physical took place, hustling him to a back room off the gym where bodyguards immediately took up positions in front of the door.

 SWN General Manager Tom Alexander was removed to a back room to prevent a confrontation with Natives from escalating yesterday at the company's open house in Durham Bridge. (Photo: Charles Leblanc)

Having safely deposited Alexander in the room, Legere began walking out of the gym, but was followed by Perley and the camouflaged group.

PR executive Louis Legere is hounded out of yesterdays SWN open house in Durham Bridge by angry Natives who want SWN to leave the province. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

"How much did they buy you for Louis?" yelled Perley at the back of Legere's head. Clearly shaken, Legere kept on walking and left.

The Natives turned and headed toward the room where Alexander was holed up, but were headed off by RCMP Sergeant J. Stenger before they could get inside. Stenger proceeded to negotiate with the unidentified Native woman and Perley.

An unidentified First Nations woman speaks with RCMP Sergeant J. Stenger yesterday at the SWN open forum held in Durham Bridge. The Natives wanted SWN out of the building and out of the province. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

"We don't want him here," the Native woman said to Stenger, who replied the company could be there because it was an open and public forum.

So it was taken to the people. The female Native turned from Stenger and asked the crowd for their thoughts on whether the executives should stay or go.

An unidentified Native protester asks people in the room if SWN is wanted in their area yesterday at the company's open house in Durham Bridge. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad0

"Do the people of Nashwaak Valley want these people here?" she shouted.

"No!" came the reply.

With a few more minutes of huddled discussion with Stenger, the Natives gradually left the gymnasium without incident, filing out past two other RCMP officers on hand to give Stenger backup. They continued their protest outside with others.

Shortly afterwards, Alexander returned to the gymnasium. He continued to talk to the public alongside other executives about SWN's shale gas exploration in the province, seeming no worse for wear.

SWN General Manager Tom Alexander, right, remained unruffled after confrontation with Natives yesterday at the company's open house information session in Durham Bridge. (Photo: Charles Leblanc)

However, instead of continuing on with the open house until 8 p.m. as scheduled, it was closed down, with company members leaving in a convoy around 6 p.m. to shouts of delight from protesters.

SWN executives leave their open house before scheduled yesterday in Durham Bridge, forced out by a confrontation with Natives who cheer the leaving convoy above with other protesters. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Natives Shut Down SWN Open House Today in Durham Bridge

First Nations members surround SWN General Manager Tom Alexander today at a company information session on shale gas in Durham Bridge, demanding he and his executives stop the presentation, leave the premises and the province. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

An unidentified member of Wolostokyik First Nation confronts SWN General Manager Tom Alexander at a company open house public information session today in Durham Bridge. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

Tobique First Nation Protection Officer Stephen Perley demands SWN General Manager Tom Alexander stop the company's public information session on shale gas and leave premises today in Durham Bridge. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

SWN General Manager Tom Alexander leaves a confrontation with Natives at the company's public information session today in Durham Bridge. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

Members of Wolostokyik First Nation speak to RCMP Sergeant J. Stenger with their demand SWN leave the building while SWN bodyguards look on and protect General Manager Tom Alexander on the other side of the blue door. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

A convoy of SWN executives leave the location of their public open house information session today in Durham Bridge after being shut down by First Nations members. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

SWN executives leave the location of their public open house information session today in Durham Bridge after being shut down by First Nations members. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

Protesters bid goodbye to SWN executives as they leave the company's open house today in Durham Bridge after being shut down in a confrontation with Native members. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

Natives and protesters celebrate after shutting down the open house by shale gas company SWN today in Durham Bridge, forcing executives to leave ahead of schedule. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Why A Former Fracker Fights Shale Gas Industry in New Brunswick

By Cheryl Norrad

Young and idealistic, Maxime Daigle entered the military shortly after graduating high school in his small hometown of Pointe Sapin. He had a desire to serve the cause and sacrifice his life if necessary. But not long after donning the uniform, it proved to be a disappointment for him and he got out.

"I didn't like the programming so I was only in for a short time," he said.

With his life's purpose seemingly lost and looking for work, he put his grand ideals away, going for the lure of big money to be made by the sweat of his brow in the gas fields out west. At that time he didn't care about politicians, the environment or the people's right to know. It was "drill, baby, drill" and that's what he did for almost 7 years in the shale gas industry, from Alberta to Texas and a few other places in between, working for gas drilling companies like Encana, Shell and Canadian National Resources.

"You take a bunch of young kids making big money, we didn't care," he said.

Daigle had a front row seat to the hydro-fracking show, pulling his weight on a team that installed the piping for a drill bore going deep into the ground, blasting fluids into the shale crust to release natural gas trapped inside. Never mind that sometimes things went sideways and wrecked the water wells of nearby private property owners, or a poorly capped well left behind damaged the environment.The name of the game for the industry was move fast for maximum profit: find 'em, drill 'em, frack 'em and forget 'em.

But deep down something didn't feel right about it all to Daigle. After educating himself about the effects of what he was doing on people and the environment, the idealist in him came roaring back to life.

"I became angry at the companies and government for not informing people what the industry was doing to the planet," he said.

But what could he do? It was hard to quit the good money. He had a mortgage, a car and all the toys a young man wanted. He had to plan his escape, taking a while to divest himself of his material lifestyle.

After leaving the industry, Daigle was at a loss. His ideals were pushing him to do something, but he wasn't sure where to focus his energies.

"I didn't know where to go," he said.

Gradually he realized returning to school was the best option. After all, he had the money, having worked in the industry all those years; may as well put it to good use.

This month, Daigle finished up the alternate energy systems program at NBCC Moncton. He's now in the position to fight for a new cause.

"I did it for the credibility; to live by example and to gain a knowledge of how the energy sector works. I want to help people make the transition to sustainable energy," he said.

Along with his new vocation, Daigle volunteers his time augmenting the Conservation Council of New Brunswick's information sessions on the shale gas industry here, speaking to communities around the province  when asked.

"I was tired of government and corporations working against democracy. People needed to be informed," he said.

But with any fight comes sacrifices, like driving long hours to and from little rural towns around the province affected by this industry. More sinister, however, are the threats he's received. With billions of dollars at stake, Daigle has placed himself in a dangerous position by speaking out against the industry, following in the footsteps of those such as Karen Silkwood, who mysteriously died in a car accident while fighting the nuclear industry in seventies USA, and Ken Saro-Wiwa, killed for his stand against Royal Dutch Shell drilling for oil in Nigeria.

"I've been followed, watched by people from industry and government in the crowd [at speaking engagements] and some other things have happened out of the ordinary that I can't talk about," he said.

But like that idealistic young man who signed up to give his life in war, Daigle is ready to do the same thing in his fight for the environment.

"I was prepared to do it then and I still am now," he said.

Al Jazeera TV Reports on Emerging Shale Gas Industry in South Africa

Friday, 24 June 2011

We Now Pause for a Break in Hostilities: Shale Gas Lite

You know the protesters at the shale gas forum in Fredericton yesterday meant business when they left their Timmy's all alone to cool at the curb; the workin' man's java

"Maudit it's hot out here!"

"Pass me the tazer out of the back would ya...I wanna zap that Charles LeBlanc." 

"And I'll tell you something else missy..."

Northrup to Forestell: "Nice tie Harry."

"These people are hurting my ears!"

Energy Minister Craig Leonard @ right : "Grin and bear it, just grin and bear it and get through the crowd..."

"Not if the Conservation Council has anything to say about it Bub!"

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Shale Gas Forum Inside: Quoted...

"It was a mixed crowd [in the meeting], some think it unethical to go down that road [shale gas], other people are for it. It was a respectful debate. But if it's unethical, it's unethical. We want people to think of the ethics...it's similar to the NB Power sale issue, the government is making decisions without discussions with the people."
- David Coon, Executive Director, Conservation Council of New Brunswick

"There are no similarities between the two [NB Power sale and shale gas]...Big companies are involved so the scope of the industry changes...we want to be ready [by regulating the industry]. 
-Hon. Craig Leonard, Minister of Energy

"A broad range of ideas were exchanged today. Concerns were brought forward but it [shale gas forum] also shows people can work together to come up with innovative solutions."
- Tom Alexander, General Manager, SWN Resources Canada

"The tone of the meeting was good. It was a mixture of representatives...a respectful debate. There will be a report issued in a few weeks."
- Hon. Bruce Northrup, Minister of Natural Resources

"There is no question the people are scared. We have to do a better job to get information out on the regulations that will protect people...we will have more consultation as the process continues."
- Hon. Craig Leonard, Minister of Energy

"The part in the press release about a bond being put on [shale gas] companies to operate here, that's already in the Oil and Gas Act."
-Hillary Casey, Press Secretary, Office of the Official Opposition

"Where is the oversight? There needs to be regulators in place."
-Denis Landry, Liberal MLA, Centre-Peninsule-Saint Sauveur

Shale Gas Forum Outside: Quoted...

"We don't normally participate in peaceful protests, we take action. We're helping out on this but the time will come when action will have to be taken if the government ignores the words of the people crying out today."
Hart Perley, Wolostokyik First Nation

"I'm here to listen. If it's harmful to people we don't need it to come at a price."
- Denis Landry, Liberal MLA,  Centre-Peninsule-Saint Sauveur

"It's nice to be popular."
- Tom Alexander, General Manager, SWN Resources Canada

"We don't want it! It's ruining Mother Earth!"
- Susan Levi-Peters,  Micmac First Nation, to Environment Minister  Margaret-Ann Blaney

"It usually takes me one hour to mow my lawn, now it takes four!" 
- Bertrand LeBlanc, Liberal MLA  Rogersville-Kouchibouguac, who joined today's protest, commenting on concerned constituents coming to his house to talk about shale gas issue

"Real men don't frack!" 
-shouted by protester in the crowd as Natural Resources Minister left the meeting with them outside Fredericton Inn

"The government needs to supervise companies in the area [doing seismic testing near homes] so the people don't have to. It would set people at ease. They're scared." 
- Mellisa Gallant, Ban Fracking NB 

Province Announces Stronger Requirements for Natural Gas Development

- Communications New Brunswick press release excerpt:

Under these new requirements, oil and natural gas companies who want to engage in exploration, development and production will have to: 

●    conduct baseline testing on all potable water wells within a minimum distance of 200 metres of seismic testing and 500 metres of oil or gas drilling before operations can begin. These will be minimum requirements and may be increased depending upon the situation;
●    provide full disclosure of all proposed, and actual, contents of all fluids and chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing (fracing) process; and
●    establish a security bond to protect property owners from industrial accidents, including the loss of/or contamination of drinking water, that places the burden of proof on industry.

The provincial government has also committed to develop a formula so landowners and nearby communities can share in the financial benefits of the natural gas industry. 

Shale Protesters Crashed Meeting at Fredericton Inn

- video used with permission from Charles LeBlanc's Other Blog

Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup: "Not Going to Crawl up in Hole and Go Away"

By Cheryl Norrad

Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup talks with media about issues being discussed today at the provincial forum on shale gas in Fredericton. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

At the provincial forum on shale gas exploration in Fredericton today, Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup reiterated the government's position on being open to hearing concerns from stakeholders around the province, while outside the venue protesters passionately voiced their opposition to the industry making a home in New Brunswick.

"We want to be up front about hearing concerns...as we have done with our open houses and will continue with our open houses...we are not going to crawl up in a hole and go away," he said.

The forum today wasn't open to the general public, Northrup said, because the officials wanted to meet with specific groups on the issue as part of the government steering committee process.

"It was a day of dialogue, but there is discussion of having a forum in the future with the people," he said.

The government also announced today new guidelines it put in place to oversee the shale gas industry in the province to tighten up existing legislation, namely, full disclosure of chemical fluids companies use in the fracking process, something the public has been asking for.

"We thought today was a good time to do it [make announcement] because all the stakeholders are here," he said. Northrup added, "This isn't the last of the enforcement laws, but we want to make it clear we are on top of it as a government."

Northrup also mentioned government is putting a bond in place the industry will have to abide by to be accountable for their operations while in the province.

"A bond has to be in place or they won't operate here," he said.

But when questioned on banks in the United States refusing to bond or insure shale gas companies operating in states there, Northrup didn't answer. He repeated the industry must abide by the bond in this province or they won't operate.

Royalties to landowners who allow shale gas operations on their land is also something the government is considering said Northrup.

"Along with provincial royalties, there can be royalties to landowners, too, who go along with the process, but they have a right to refuse...no means no," he said.

When Northrup was asked why the government has flatly refused a moratorium on shale gas fracking in New Brunswick, he said things are progressing slowly enough to have time to put legislation in place.

"We're not putting in a moritorium because there is time to do it right...only a few wells have been active this year so far," he said.

When asked about his trip with Enviornment Minister Blaney outside the forum to speak to protesters, Northrup was congenial.

"Communication is what it's all about..there's a lot of emotion...but we plan to continue with our open-door policy."

Ministers Blaney and Northrup Meet Protesters in Heated Scrum and Hear Their Concerns

Within this crowd of protesters, Ministers Blaney and Northrup speak to concerned citizens outside the location of the provincial forum on shale gas at the Fredericton Inn today. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

Ministers Blaney and Northrup listen to the crowd of protesters gathered at the Fredericton Inn today to make their opposition to shale gas known to officials holding a provincial forum on the topic at the hotel today. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

Children accompanied parents to the anti-shale gas protest outside the provincial forum on shale gas today in Fredericton. This little one was in the scrum while Environment Minister Blaney spoke to concerned citizens. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

Ministers Blaney and Northrup listen to the shouting anti-shale gas crowd outside the provincial forum on shale gas today in Fredericton. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup listens as a protester and concerned citizen voices her opposition to shale gas today in Fredericton outside the provincial forum on shale gas at the Fredericton Inn. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

Environment Minister Margaret-Ann Blaney listens to citizens protesting shale gas in New Brunswick outside the provincial forum held on the topic today in Fredericton at the Fredericton Inn. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Major Drilling Group International Awards $50K to UNB

- UNB Press Release from website

Major Drilling Group International Inc. has donated $50,000 to the University of New Brunswick to establish the Major Drilling Group Scholarship for geology students.

Mineral exploration and mining have long played a significant role in the province of New Brunswick and its economy. The industry provides hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, employs more than 3,000 people, and supplies a significant amount of zinc, silver, lead, copper, bismuth and peat to the Canadian market. 
“If we want to grow and prosper as a province and continue to explore the vast mining resources that are still untapped, we need to invest in and partner with the geologists and engineers who will become tomorrow’s industry leaders,” said Francis McGuire, Director, President and Chief Executive Officer of Major Drilling Group International Inc.
The $2,000 scholarship is available to students in their third year of the Bachelor of Science program in geology or geological engineering. Recipients must be graduates of a New Brunswick high school and demonstrate high academic achievement. 
The first recipient of the scholarship is Emily Bartlett, a Fredericton High School graduate who is in her third year of the Bachelor of Science in geological engineering program at UNB.
“The Major Drilling Group Scholarship will be a lasting reminder of the importance of maintaining close connections between UNB and the commercial interests that hire our graduates,” said UNB President Eddy Campbell. 
“Our strategic plan calls for many more of these kinds of partnerships and I am pleased to count Major Drilling as a supporter of students in our classrooms and of our alumni as their employees.”
Based in Moncton, Major Drilling Group International Inc. is one of the world’s largest drilling service providers serving the mining industry. The company was founded in 1980 and now has more than 4,000 employees.  It maintains offices in several countries including Canada, the United States, South and Central America, Asia, Africa, and Australia. 

Energy Minister Leonard, DNR Minister Northrup Declare Government Position on Shale Gas Ban Before Fredericton Forum

By Ellen Moore

According to a CBC Saint John report this morning, Energy Minister Craig Leonard said yesterday there would be no ban on fracking in New Brunswick because there is no proof the process damages the water table.

In an interview today with CBC Fredericton's Information Morning, Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup reiterated Leonard's statement from yesterday, saying there is no proven cases of shale gas drilling destroying ground water.

These statements come prior to tomorrow's government forum in Fredericton on the shale drilling industry in New Brunswick. Leonard and Northrup, along with Environment Minister Blaney and government officials, are scheduled to consult with community organizations concerned about the process on the province's water and natural habitat.

But statements from Leonard in a Telegraph Journal article by Natalie Stechyson suggest consultation won't be the order of the day, but rather educating these groups on the facts of why the province is moving forward with the industry in the province.

"Well obviously we'll have to do a bit more work on the communication side to explain to New Brunswickers what the industry is all about, and just to basically refute some of the misinformation that is out there."

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Thumper Trucks in New Brunswick

- video courtesy of Jamie Macleod, concerned citizen

Editorial: A Failure to Communicate: All Stakeholders Need to Come Together Right Now

Cornhill, Salisbury, St. Ignace, St. Louis de Kent, Taymouth, Boiestown, Doaktown, Acadieville, Rexton. These are some of the communities in the frontline fight against the shale gas industry in New Brunswick. On Thursday, June 23 from 9 to 4:30 pm at the Fredericton Inn on Regent Street in Fredericton, the provincial government is holding a forum on shale gas, and people from these communities plan to be rallying outside to ensure their voices are heard.

Government officials will discuss the issue of shale gas drilling in the province, with several organizations it invited to speak on behalf of citizens. They include municipalities, industry groups, universities, First Nations and other community groups. The forum is being organized by the Natural Gas Steering Committee headed by the ministers and deputy ministers of Environment, Energy and Natural Resources.

Since the forum won't be open to the individual public, it seems there is no choice for people other than gather outside in protest. And since the reception to government officials in town meetings with these people impacted by shale gas exploration has been hostile and aggressive, it is no wonder this committee is holding meetings behind closed doors.

But both sides are being tone deaf to the needs of the other.

In the absence of any clear mandate on shale gas drilling communicated to the public by the government, a vacuum has been created that is quickly filling up with rumors, misinformation and hysteria. People are scared.

Viewings of the documentary Gasland, with its alarmist tone, has got people up in arms, the agenda of conservation groups has become the vox populi and some of the affected communities are organizing a Neighborhood Watch-like network to monitor what they see as suspicious behaviour by big company interlopers, nosing around their community looking for potential fracking sites that will destroy their water source.

It is no wonder then when people have access to government officials in their midst at town meetings on shale gas, they get quite impatient with the lack of concrete answers. Everyday these people see the encroachment of big industry onto their little villages in the faces of strangers, who quietly show up using bizarre-looking devices or big intimidating thumper trucks, to gather information for fracking that destroys their well water. It's happening so fast and they wonder why government isn't doing more to catch up; to get control of this goliath bearing down on them.

Instead, government allows what many perceive as a slick-talking snake oil salesman with the southern drawl of Big Daddy to go around the province to speak on its behalf, defending the industry with the real facts to people who have a natural suspicion of outsiders. And it wonders why this isn't going down well.

Conversely, the groundswell of protest arising from the populace on the issue of shale gas is loud, obnoxious and bullying. It's obvious why the government wants to prevent a fractious debate at Thursday's forum by keeping the numbers down and having the public represented by groups instead. There is less chance for it to go off the rails into emotional tirades, which has occurred in the town meetings where hapless government officials sat soberly taking the brunt of public anger, being repeatedly questioned by individuals at the mic while the mob derisively mocked their answers. They showed up and took it at least, letting the public know, however futile, that they are indeed working on putting legislation in place to police the industry here.

The Alward government inherited this mess from the previous one flailing around trying to find the quickest way to staunch the flow of red onto the province's balance sheet. Officials need time to get out in front of this and until legislation is in place, there isn't a whole helluva lot they can say on the matter. They can listen and consult and that is what they are trying to do with the public meetings.

This young government also sees the potential of the shale gas industry here, bringing jobs and educational funding to a province sorely lacking in investment from anyone, let alone a billion dollar player in the field, at a time when provincial, national and global coffers are desperate. Who is going to pay for the health services of aging boomers, those very people who are the majority demographic protesting shale gas companies setting up shop here? What is going to finance a provincial bilingual education system? Have any of these protesters thought of solutions for getting the province out of debt instead of shooting down government's attempts to try?

The Purple Violet Press sees both sides of the issue and we daresay it's more than just two sides because it's so complicated. Ways have to be found to maintain the pristine nature of the province's environment, yet avenues of solid investment are needed to pull itself out of debt. Communication is key. Listening is key. Public haranguing doesn't work, nor does silence in an attempt to control the situation or allowing outsiders to educate locals on the 'facts'.

Thursday is a chance for all sides to have input and reasoned debate. The government has got step up and be ready for what is coming at them. The people need to allow them to prepare. If things get out of control, and God forbid they do, someone could get hurt. But worse, an opportunity for everyone to work together to get this province off it's knees, a place it's been for too long, could be lost.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Ban Fracking NB Lobby Group Calls Drilling "Frankenstein Technology"

Sightings of half-ton trucks with geological logos have citizens in St. Ignace nervous, said Dallas McQuarrie, a resident of the area and spokesperson for the non-profit anti-fracking group Ban Fracking NB.

"People are expecting thumper trucks any day now," said McQuarrie.

Geological companies have been hired by shale gas businesses in the province to provide seismic testing data to determine where potential deposits might be tapped for fracking. One of the ways that data can be obtained is by large thumper trucks with a plate on their undercarriage which slams into the ground to loosen the natural gas and is recorded by a geophone on the surface.

Above is an example of a geophone device used to record shale gas activity underground. (Photo: Ban Fracking NB)

Geological companies use geophone devices like the one above to capture seismic activity of natural gas underground. (Photo: Ban Fracking NB)

Thumper trucks usually travel in a convoy, stopping to thump the ground with plantforms on their undercarrige to loosen natural gas underneath. It's movement is picked up by geophone devices on the surface. (Photo: Ban Fracking NB)

The Purple Violet Press caught up with McQuarrie on the weekend to learn the arguments of Ban Fracking NB against the shale gas industry making a home in New Brunswick.

PVP: What about those who say the economy of New Brunswick needs this industry for income to provide services to the public in the future?

McQuarrie: The returns on shale gas are not enough to offset the environmental devastation it will do to this province. Our future is in renewable resources and other areas such as tourism. The royalties paid to the province only kick in after everyone else is paid and 10% is too low; it's not enough. If we ruin our water for such low royalties, it's lunatic...the spinoffs to the local economy aren't worth it; it's not worth the fast return on a short-sighted investment. Without a vision, the people perish. The government needs to quit looking for the quick fix.

PVP: According to shale gas company Southwestern Energy (SWN), the general reception they've received around the province is positive. Have you heard that?

McQuarrie:  I haven't heard anyone say it. Usually it's the people saying nice things about something like this who are the ones getting money out of it. If you read any of the studies done on this by the United States National Academy of Science or the British Scientific Council, the science is saying it's horrific. But to the people making money, it's good. When people look into it they aren't in favor of it. The New Brunswick government has been sold a bill of goods and isn't buying the science on the devastation.

PVP: What is the purpose of the lobby group (Ban Fracking NB)?

McQuarrie:  It's to make people aware that the industry is coming to the area. They're realizing it now that the they're [geological companies] here and banding together to protect the land.

PVP: What are/will be the tactics for keeping these companies out?

McQuarrie:  It depends on what people want to do. Some have talked of laying down on the road in front of the thumper trucks when they come.

PVP:  Has anyone in the area been notified seismic testing is taking place?

McQuarrie: [Companies] approached people individually door-to-door offering a free water test; they're not coming out and saying they're a shale gas company. Most people have told them to get off their land, but one couple who allowed it are now afraid after hearing everything. People recognized strangers who are conspicuous off the beaten path; locals on ATV's in the woods have been noticing things.

PVP: What about the argument the shale gas companies are only doing seismic testing now; there's no fracking going on?

McQuarrie: If they find gas, they'll want to frack; there's only one reason they're here and that's to make a profit.

PVP:  SWN representative Tom Alexander said in a presentation in Boiestown that it has little or no contaminated water in it's operations. What do you think of that claim?

McQuarrie: That's an insult to our intelligence and all that means is the poisons have separated from the water and gone someplace else they can't account for. He can say it's not dangerous, but would he drink the water?

PVP: Along with helping the economy, there is the promise of jobs and investment in education by shale gas companies. Isn't that a good thing?

McQuarrie: That's not the point. The point is when the water is gone, then what will they do? People will be trained to work in an industry no longer here. What will they do then?

PVP: There was some discussion by Alexander at the Boiestown meeting of the government putting backend remediation legislation in place that doesn't let companies off the hook for cleanup if they leave. Isn't that an example of the government covering its bases?

McQuarrie: No amount of money can replace a natural resource like water. They can't clean up a site if they can't find all the chemical contaminates. It's the same old story, a company promises up front to do cleanup then reneges. They're smelling the last buck before the technology is shut down; they're making a fast buck off hicktown rubes.

PVP: What does Ban Fracking NB want to accomplish?

McQuarrie: We want wide open public hearings where the scientific evidence can be laid out. We're not against shale gas exploration, it's the fracking; it's a Frankenstein technology. If the government banned fracking, it [the protest] would be all over. There would be no loss of face for the government because the agreement came in under the Liberals. We are hopeful the government will hold open meetings. If they do, they'll get credit for it. The fundamental question is, is the government going to gamble with the environment or be cautious?

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Southwestern Energy Has Its Say: A Rural Briefing

Southwestern Energy (SWN) General Manager Tom Alexander gestures during an information session Wednesday in Boiestown about the company and it's work in New Brunswick.(Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

Tom Alexander is a native of North Carolina who has spent 29 years in shale gas industry operations. He's an engineer by trade and spent most of his career on the production side of things. He was promoted to General Manager for Southwestern Energy's New Brunswick office last year. 

"I had no idea I'd be here in New Brunswick a year ago, but I'm glad to be here," Alexander said in an earnest southern drawl as he introduced himself Wednesday to locals in Boiestown. They were on hand for an information session about what the company he represents is doing in their region and the wider province.

That company, Southwestern Energy, is a natural gas and oil business founded in 1929 and based in Houston, Texas. With branch offices in Arkansas and Pennsylvania, it's investment in New Brunswick is it's first foray into Canada where it's known as SWN Resources Canada. It was awarded 2.5 million acres by the Graham government in a March 2010 bid in return for a three-year, $47 million investment to explore the Frederick Brook Shale, a  natural gas patch across the southern half of the province, sprawling from the east coast to the south west. SWN has one thousand employees North America-wide and a reputation for being a relatively clean company in a dirty business. 

"If we can't do the job here in a responsible and sustainable manner, then we won't proceed," said Alexander as he opened the presentation.

To allay public fears on the risks of drilling, commonly called fracking, he stressed the company is only in the three-year exploratory phase right now. It's drilling small wells, called 'shotholes' in the industry, up to 50m deep to determine whether natural gas is present and worth tapping into. 

Alexander added even if a substantial find is discovered, it would take time to analyze it's scale, giving the government a chance to come up with a framework for an industry yet to be fully regulated in New Brunswick.

"If the three-year exploration succeeded, it would take another two to three years to determine the size of it," he said. "There's lots of time for working on issues such as royalties and environmental planning."

But before Alexander got much further, he was questioned by a local in the apprehensive crowd on why SWN is involved in two class-action lawsuits in the U.S. involving damaged private water wells.

"One, you can sue anyone you want in the U.S.," said Alexander. "But the [actual] first reason is although we put chemicals in a [shale gas] well, there was nothing found by inspectors from drilling operations or production to have damaged the private well. Two, the [private] well turned gassy. State regulator Arkansas Oil & Gas looked to SWN for help and that fact was mentioned in public records."

MLA Jake Stewart then asked Alexander point blank if SWN uses any chemicals in its drilling process detrimental to drinking water.

"Two-thirds of our stimulation fluids (fracking chemicals) are used to kill the bacteria in the water; it's not drinkable, but when properly handled and treated it is...There is no proven case where stimulation fluids have gotten into well water," he said.

When asked by protester Mary Delavalette in attendance why chemicals used by shale gas companies are proprietary, Alexander responded that patents on the various chemical mixtures are kept secret to keep an edge over competitors. 

"The companies release a list of what might be used for chemicals in their drilling process for competition purposes, not because they don't want the public not to know," he said.

Alexander added the chemical supply companies are also competing to get the business of the gas companies, and they don't want their competition knowing the chemical mixtures either. Something SWN doesn't condone.

"SWN recognizes that but doesn't defend the suppliers actions. If they don't have good chemicals, SWN won't use their products," he said.

Moving on, Alexander said three years ago, his boss asked him to come to New Brunswick after the Corridor shale gas discovery in Elgin got their attention. His employer began collection old mining data on public record to see if there were any possibilities for SWN. Alexander also mentioned New Brunswick has a history with shale gas drilling; the recent developments aren't new to the province.

According to online publication The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, New Brunswick has been in the gas drilling business since at least 1912.

"Natural gas production averaged about 650 million cubic feet per year from 1912 to 1946. From 1953 to 1991 it maintained a fairly steady rate of about 100 million cubic feet per year," it stated in a 2011 post.

Alexander said SWN works to minimize the impact of drilling on the environment through responsible resource usage such as managing water demand by constructing ponds to capture rainwater, use of private existing ponds, regulated stream withdrawals, municipal sources and recycling. He added 48 per cent of water in New Brunswick is run off, of which .025 per cent is used in oil and gas operations, compared to irrigation on farmland which is 72 per cent.

"We recycle 100% of the water used in the process," he said.

With 4.5 million gallons of water used in the entire process over the life of the shale gas well, 100 per cent comes back through nature or techniques used by the company, including recycled water from flowback out of the fracked well, and produced water which is reused in other operations.

"It doesn't go into an open pit," said Alexander.

SWN has tested the water coming out of the ground to check for abnormalities, but the company has found there isn't a lot of contamination.

"But you can't guarantee accidents won't happen," said Delavalette.

"I'm not here to guarantee it," Alexander said. "History shows SWN hasn't had any major incidents. In the future, there may be an accident, but the company works hard to prevent it."

Alexander also refuted the claim earthquakes are linked to the hydro-fracking procedure, citing research by Arkansas state regulators who found no link between the two in SWN operations there. Addressing rumors of windows breaking during seismic testing, Alexander said no such incidents have been reported when SWN conducted tests. As for the 60 ruined private wells in Penobsquis, he said it was likely due to the potash mine in the area.

"So far SWN hasn't operated on a private landowner without permission...we have no desire to," he said.

In answer to several questions about clean up operations if SWN leaves the province, Alexander said the  province is looking at putting in a trust fund where the burden is on the operator to deal with remedial issues. The company will have to prove on a periodic basis they can financially support clean up on the back end. He also suggested it shouldn't operate in the province unless it can ensure the mess would be cleaned up in the event of sale.

"Decommissioning a well is highly regulated. Physical things need to be done to secure it and remove the surrounding materials," said Alexander.

Alexander explained the gas industry is important to a small province like New Brunswick because it provides trade, jobs and spinoffs to local businesses through construction, manufacturing and transport, to name a few. SWN will have a total of 120 people working in seismology operations this summer. 90 per cent are Maritimers, 60 per cent of which are from New Brunswick.

SWN also has plans to invest in the education of the province's labour force, setting up scholarships and working with community colleges to put in place training courses to supply workers for it's operations.

"A university degree isn't the only thing needed to work for SWN," Alexander said. "We are willing to invest in people."

The current royalty structure between the province and SWN is set at 10 per cent for New Brunswick and 90 percent for the company. But that is likely to change if the three-year exploration pays off.

"The plan is to bump it up to 12 per cent and we're willing to pay more," he said.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Current Acts Overseeing Shale Gas Exploration in New Brunswick and Other Info

The Oil and Natural Gas Act:

The Clean Air Act:

The Clean Water Act:

The Clean Environment Act:

Where to go for government information on natural gas exploration and development:

Where to go for SWN information on natural gas exploration and development in New Brunswick:

Where to go for Corridor information on natural gas exploration and development in New Brunswick:

The History of Oil and Gas Exploration in New Brunswick - The Players and Places

By Ellen Moore

New Brunswick's history with the shale gas industry is not recent. The province has been dabbling in oil and natural gas as far back as 1859 with such big industry players as Shell, BP, Imperial Oil and Irving. Although the finds were mostly small, with many of the large companies moving on or selling out to another company looking to give it a shot, the Corridor discovery in Elgin has changed the game and might be something bigger with the technology to extract it that wasn't there before.

You can read all about the history of the search for oil and gas in New Brunswick with maps and pictures at the following link:  http://www.gnb.ca/0078/minerals/pdf/ONG_History-E.pdf

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Shale Gas Dispute: Quoted...

"The government is working on beefing up every facet of regulations; several groups are working on it and we contribute information. The government has gone places and done due diligence, taking the best practices from those places, learning from the mistakes of others."
- Tom Alexander, General Manager, Southwestern Energy  NB

"Our group is calling for a ban on fracking until we know more and ensure the safety of the process. I'm not an activist by nature; I'm not polished, but I know I want clean water."
- Dr. Tanya Wood, member, Concerned Citizens of Central NB

"We just came from a meeting with the Saint John Board of Trade this morning. We got a positive reaction; most people have been positive."-
- Louis Legere, Communications consultant, M5 Group, SWN

"If someone came in here halfway through his [Tom Alexander] presentation they'd think he was setting up an ice cream stand."
- Diane Clowater, resident of Boiestown

"It's important communities come together; it's divide and conquer having meetings in little towns. People have to back each other; we have to go to areas and support others. We all share the water."
- Mellisa Gallant, co-founder Facebook site "Ban Hydraulic Fracturing (hydro-fracking) in New Brunswick, Canada"

"The last government put this agreement in place. We haven't been in government long, but we're putting communications in place; we're working on it and want to understand the issues IF it [shale gas drilling] becomes an industry here."
- Kirk MacDonald, MLA York North

Rural New Brunswickers Come Out for Meetings with Shale Gas Rep and Government Officials

Sessions at times heated as public voices it's concern about industry to shale gas rep and province's bureaucrats; MLA's

By Cheryl Norrad

SWN rep Tom Alexander at left. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

Public information sessions were held in Boiestown and Taymouth yesterday with the General Manager of shale gas giant Southwestern Energy (SWN), Tom Alexander, presenting information and answering questions on the company, along with it's plan for New Brunswick, while Alward administration officials participated in a Q&A and MLA's looked on.

"I'm here to give people credible and factual information," said Alexander. "A lot of the protest is fueled by misinformation and I want to get resources out there," he said.

Southwest Miramichi MLA Jake Stewart attends the SWN open house in Boiestown yesterday. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

Southwest Miramichi MLA Jake Stewart attended the Boiestown session to get up to speed on where SWN is currently at after having attended a few summer and fall meetings with government.

"I'm concerned about shale gas, too, and it's effects on water, having dealt with drinking water issues in Blackville, but I'm not an expert so came to be better informed," he said.

Stewart also added Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Minister Bruce Northrup and (DoE) Environment Minister Margaret-Ann Blaney are interested in attending meetings in the region next month.

The MLA for York North, Kirk MacDonald, was present in Taymouth and struck a conciliatory tone, both in support of government bureaucrats struggling to get a framework in place for the industry in the province, as well as taking the concerns of his constituents seriously.

York North MLA Kirk MacDonald attended a shale gas meeting in Taymouth yesterday evening. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

"As long as I'm MLA there will be no fracking in the Taymouth area without an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) in place...and I will take it back to the government that the people want a referendum on shale gas," he said.

The meetings were at times hostile and raucous, with a small but vocal turnout in Boiestown and a standing-room-only crowd in Taymouth.

In Boiestown, Alexander gave his presentation inside the local community center while protesters lined the highway outside with anti-shale gas signs and banners. A few came into the meeting to hear Alexander and made it clear they weren't in favor of the company being in their region.

"We don't want you here!" said Mary Delavalette, a member of Doaktown's Concerned Citizens of Central NB, in an exchange with Alexander over worries about the impact of chemicals used in the fracking wells on the local watershed.

"What people are hearing is blown out of proportion. Millions of wells are working fine," said Alexander.

Others attending the Boiestown meeting weren't protesters, but were members of the local community very upset about the possibility of their offspring being harmed by toxic water from chemical fracking.

"How can you guarantee my children won't be effected by drinking poisoned well water?" asked Jason Lyons, a businessman and fishing guide from the area.

"I can't," answered Alexander, "But I don't think small amounts [of chemicals] in local water will affect children...we test water before and after drilling and the Environment Department is working on regulations to ensure safe water," he said.

At the Taymouth meeting government officials from DNR, DoE and the Department of Health (DoH) answered questions from the public alongside MLA MacDonald, SWN and a representative from the Natural Gas Group (NGG), a government committee struck in April to regulate the shale gas industry in New Brunswick.

A capacity crowd was on hand at a public shale gas meeting with company and government officials in Taymouth last evening. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

An attendee poses a question to company and government officials at a shale gas public information session last evening in Taymouth. (Photo: Cheryl Norrad)

On a night when they could've been home watching Vancouver lose the Stanley Cup to Boston, the citizens in Taymouth politely lined up at the mic to ask their questions. But as it became clear to them by a lack of concrete answers from bureaucrats present that the government is lagging behind in regulating the industry, several became derisive and skeptical.

"When are we going to get straight answers?!" asked one exasperated attendee at the mic inquiring about chemicals used in shale gas drilling.

Calmly taking the lead on the question, Angie Leonard of the Natural Gas Group said, "Not everyone can be at every public meeting and we are trying our best."

Sam McEwan, Assistant Deputy Minister at Natural Resources, added, "the Natural Gas Group is in it's early days and are trying to find answers...it has to be done right and concerns addressed; that's what government is doing."

SWN's Alexander answered the question by saying, "Options [are coming] in the industry for user-friendly fluids; food-grade products are coming out; it's a possibility for us."

The DoH's Karen White said, "We're working on regulations for health through the EIA...risk assessments are going on now and if there isn't enough information for a satisfactory assessment, work will be stopped."

At this the crowd erupted into anger with one saying, "Wells have already been fracked in New Brunswick without assessments!"

Leonard reiterated the NGG is new and working to get on top of things. There is a plan to have open houses and communique's in the future notifying the public and questions by the public were welcomed.

"We are happy to speak to individual well owners if they contact the Natural Gas Group with questions," she said.

A question was later shouted out by an anonymous voice in the crowd that seemed to prick the ballooning anger in the room, "What's the score in the hockey game?" To laughter, Alexander's assistant went to the stage with his Blackberry and showed the moderator it was 1-0 for Boston. Boo's came from the majority of the audience.

That question distracted the crowd from getting any more heated with the panel. But it was another posed by an attendee at the mic that gave everyone pause:

"Where's the Opposition?"

Filling the void, Alexander said, "I met with the Liberals a month ago for a briefing and we agreed to meet every three months for updates."

That answer and MLA MacDonald's statement to bring the issue as a referendum to the government seemed to help quell the crowd and it eventually wound down given the late hour.

At the end when asked by The Purple Violet Press if he often runs into this tension at public meetings, Alexander replied, "The tone usually calms down as meetings progress [the public gets informed], but the general reception has been positive. Some will always object. That's okay, that's what makes the world go round."

Scenes From the Anti-Fracking Frontline

Information sessions took place today in Boiestown and Taymouth with government officials and Southwestern Energy representatives presenting their roles and responsibilities in the shale gas industry in New Brunswick. Protesters were outside at both sessions letting their opposition be known. A lot of information was presented and The Purple Violet Press will have stories from these meetings over the next few days.